‘Mountains of the Moon’ get nod for international wetlands protection

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Source: WWF International

Part of the Rwenzori Mountains – home to some of the last glaciers in Africa and likely Ptolemy’s ‘Lunis Montae’ – received international recognition on Wednesday as a protected wetland site under the international Ramsar convention, a major conservation decision that will help protect the region’s vast ecological riches.

The Rwenzori Ramsar Site covers a 99,500 hectares area of the mountain region located in western Uganda and bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the DRC, the mountains are part of Virunga National Park, which is also designated as a Ramsar Site and recognized as a World Heritage Site.

The Rwenzori region received Ramsar Site designation primarily for three main reasons: it contains important wetland bogs that support plant and animal life, it contains dozens of endemic threatened and restricted range species – of which many are endangered such as the Rwenzori Duiker (Cephalophus rubidus), Elephants (Loxodonta africana), Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Rwenzori Otter Shrew (Micropotamogale ruwenzorii) – and because many of those species play an integral role in maintaining the region’s biological diversity.

WWF International's Freshwater Programme has been supporting wetlands conservation in Uganda since 2000, including for the designation of another nine of Uganda’s Ramsar Sites in 2006.

The Rwenzori Mountains are one of the only three places in Africa with unique high altitude wetlands, including glaciers at the equator – the other two being Mount Kilimandjaro in Tanzania, and Mount Kenya in Kenya. Located in the western arm of the African Rift Valley, the Rwenzori Mountains act as a natural water tower for the Nile River basin. In 300 AD, the Alexandrine geographer Claudius Ptolemy suggested that the Nile had its source from snow peaks on the Equator, the ‘Lunis Montae’ or ‘Mountains of the Moon’.

But the fascination and reverence for the Rwenzori Mountains has continued since Ptolemy’s time. In 1888, H. M. Stanley while on expedition at the shores of L. George sighted the snow peaks of Rwenzori. Early mountaineers, most notably the Duke of Abruzzi in 1906, fighting upwards through dense forests of trees and bamboos, discovered a surreal landscape beautiful foliage, surrounded by spectacular lakes and equatorial glaciers flowed down from the snow capped peaks.

Since 1906, the Rwenzori Mountains have become a paradise for botanists and mountaineers alike. Research has revealed a wealth of endemic species in the range within a series of remarkable concentric, altitudinal, vegetation zones.

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